Illini baseball extends winning streak to 5



By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team strung together its first winning streak of the season on its spring trip.

The Illini rolled off five straight wins after losing their first game of their spring break trip to the IMG Baseball Academy in Bradenton, Fla., going 5-1 on their trip to get within one game of a .500 record at 7-8 this season.

Senior catcher Lars Davis led the offensive charge for the Illini on the trip, hitting .680 with four home runs, 10 RBIs and 10 runs scored. With Davis heading the offensive parade, the Illini’s pitching staff followed suit and found its groove after being sparked by sophomore starting pitcher Aaron Marin’s shutout performance on the mound against Massachusetts.

In the Illini’s final three games the pitching staff took over and gave up just six runs total.

“We accomplished a lot of things we set out to get done over spring break,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “We improved in every area of the game, most notably we started pitching very well as the trip went on and guys started to settle in and relax.”

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After starting games a day late due to weather and a 14-2 defeat by Jacksonville State, the Illini kicked into gear at the plate, putting together wins of 17-5 and 20-10 over Yale and Dartmouth, respectively.

In Illinois’ 17-5 win over Yale, the Illini tallied a season-high 21 hits as six different Illini recorded multiple hits in the game and freshman outfielder Craig Lutes blasted his first home run of his career in the win.

Lutes and the Illini continued to show off their power in their next game. The freshman outfielder was joined by Davis and junior second baseman Ryan Hastings in blasting home runs to help the Illini score 20 runs for the first time since May 6, 2005.

“It’s good to have a well-rounded offense,” Davis said. “We have a lot of speed guys who can get on base and get into scoring position and now that the guys in the middle of our lineup are being able to drive guys in really provides us with a threat.”

With the offense hitting its stride the Illini pitching staff caught up to the Illini sluggers in games four and five.

Martin had a career day in game four for the Illini, throwing eight shutout innings while allowing eight hits and striking out four batters in the Illini’s 4-0 win over Massachusetts.

Fellow sophomore Ben Reeser closed the game out in the ninth inning with a scoreless frame to combine for the Illini’s first shutout since May 21, 2005.

“The biggest adjustment the staff made was mental,” Martin said. “We started off the season on the wrong foot so we came out with a new attitude. We took a major step forward confidence-wise on the mound.”

Illinois’ pitching continued to excel the following day as sophomore Tanner Roark captured his first win of the year after tossing six solid innings. Freshman pitcher Billy Barrett also notched his first career save with three shutout innings of relief to propel Illinois to a 5-2 win over Dartmouth.

Illinois finished off the sweep of the Big Green of Dartmouth with a 7-4 win in its final game of the break. Sophomore pitcher Scott Shaw earned the win for the Illini after tossing six innings and giving up one earned run.

Shaw was helped out by Davis at the plate, who went 3-for-4 and hit two solo home runs in the Illini’s finale.

“Our players have built a lot of confidence from break and now our guys have started to relax and believe we can win,” Hartleb said.

Illinois will play Indiana State at home Tuesday at 6 p.m.